Recently, I shared a very funny cartoon on Facebook. It showed a photo of a mother confronting her child in bed, saying “I don’t care about the drugs or the alcohol. Just tell me who gave you these Ayn Rand books!”
Like all good comedy, it captured an essential truth—that in the last analysis, the ideas you put in your soul end up being more important than the occasional beer or joint you enjoy on a Saturday morning. From that perspective, the mother was exercising rather good parenting.
A friend commented that I was being far too harsh on Rand and her libertarian philosophy. Who was I, he said, to act so partisan and declare that such virtues as generosity and compassion were superior to Rand’s gospel of selfishness? The more honest approach was to be civil and give her positions respect, for how can we maintain peace in a democracy without such a posture?
One sees this line of argument a good deal nowadays. There are many on the right who believe that the use of strong moral language in politics is demagogic and unfair. Liberals are intolerant, they say, constantly calling opposing ideas “cruel,” “greedy” and “inhumane.”
Of course, while tough, partisan rhetoric is an unfortunate thing, and tends to hurt people’s feelings, it is a far greater mistake to treat terrible ideas civilly. Not all perspectives should be viewed with legitimacy. Lines must be drawn somewhere, cruel policies and ideologies have to be seen as beyond the pale.
Conservatives certainly understand this concept in the context of religion. It is freely accepted among evangelicals that, in order for their doctrine to work, certain things are prohibited and labeled sins that require repentance and remorse.
What do you think would happen if Christianity abandoned this way of doing business, under the premise that it was too intolerant, and simply treated all behavior as OK? How would people react if priests held Cain in the same league as Abel, the thief morally equal to the cop, or the warmonger as noble as the man of peace?
That great faith would become a joke overnight. Millions would flee the churches and look for spiritual nourishment elsewhere.
Similarly, in order for our country to maintain itself, we too must embrace a religious ethic. Over the generations, we have been gifted a marvelous creed by leaders of great principle and genius, that goes something like this:
America is an idea, a refuge for all of God’s children, not any one particular race or ethnicity. In this land, democracy is sacred and everyone is entitled to the same treatment under the law. It is a place for strivers to pursue their dreams, where the playing field is fair enough to ensure the most talented reach the top, instead of just folks with wealth and connections.
Those notions define who we are as a people. But in order to ensure they are perpetuated for future generations, we must collectively condemn the sins of our public officials that make a mockery of them.
In recent years, much of this civic sacrilege has come from the Republican side of the aisle. Just last week the nation watched in horror as 147 GOP members of Congress, including Santa Clarita’s Rep. Mike Garcia, voted against certifying a legitimate presidential election. By doing so, these dishonorable men and women colluded in President Donald Trump’s attempt to upend our democracy and unlawfully secure a second term.
Many Republicans justified their vote as a principled way to protest what they believed were unconstitutional voting procedures used by the states in November. But such rationalizations are rank nonsense. Federal courts have ruled, in every case brought before them, that there was no legitimate reason to consider Joe Biden’s victory suspect in any way.
And in America, the judiciary has the final say; that’s what makes us a government of laws, not of men. The massive Republican attempt to override this system was a subversion of our democracy, which led directly to the bloody terrorist attack at the Capitol.
There can be no civility toward such an outrage, only a prophet’s anger. Thankfully Democrats understand the importance of maintaining moral standards. More specifically we see that when leaders pursue such an indecent course, they and their ideology must be banished from power entirely — just as you can’t trust a priest who grievously violates scripture to guide a church.
Of course, any religion, be it civic or spiritual, has to also include a chance for redemption. No one can be canceled forever. One thinks of the way John Lewis eagerly embraced the former police officers and KKK members who tormented him during the civil rights movement. Any time one of those fellows reached out to that great man, expressing remorse for their deeds, he readily offered his sincere forgiveness.
This kind of partisanship, firmly wedded to the right and the true, embedded with righteous passion as well as grace, doesn’t harm our country. It’s precisely what is needed to save it.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect those of The Signal or its editorial board.